Mostar was one of the prettiest cities that I traveled through in the Balkans region. Honestly, I will probably say the same thing about many of my stops as it just seems to be getting better and better as I travel further south. This particular little dab on the map is in the Herzegovina part of B-H, and it is just a hop-skip across the border from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Mostar’s climate and landscape differs drastically from the wetter region around Sarajevo: it is very Mediterranean in feel, and the landscape is mostly barren mountain ranges, river valleys, and treeless hilltops. A walk through the Kujundziluk bazaar reminds me of a Turkish market. And since I am not getting to Turkey on this trip, satiating myself with these bazaars in BH will have to do. The one-road footpath is full of trinket sellers, fabric and lantern shops, jewelry stops, and coffee and gelato kiosks.
I spent three thought-provoking days in Mostar, and my accommodation, Hostel David, was the best hostel ever. Hostel David had two overly kind hosts, free breakfast and dinner (and snacks, deserts, and coffee too). The managers were always ready for a chat, and they were available to answer questions, check bus schedules, and help with travel questions.
Mostar still has heaps of bombed out buildings from the Balkans war. Spending a moment to reflect in their somber coolness offers a chance to remember the victims of the war, both the ones that died and the ones that live with the memories.
Stari Most – “Mostar” literally means bridge-keeper. The famous Stari Most Old Bridge is one of the Balkan’s most recognizable landmarks. The original bridge was commissioned in 1557 by Suleiman the Magnificent, and the masterpiece stood for nearly 430 years until it was destroyed in 1993 when Croatian forces bombarded the bridge. Following the war, the United Nations, UNESCO, and several European countries donated funds to help rebuild the popular landmark.
Young men have been jumping from the Stari Most for centuries. As a way to prove their manhood, to flirt with the objects of their affections, or just to be daredevils, many of the world’s fittest and bravest continue to jump the 26 meters into the river below. You might catch one today if you hang out at the bridge long enough!
Blagaj Tekija – A visit to the Blagaj village to check out the Dervish Monastery of Tekija is worthy of a day trip. The setting of the monastery is beautiful. Built into a 200 meter cliff, this well-preserved monastery sits on the gushing Buna River and is open year round for visitors and pilgrims. Women are asked to wear headscarves, and all visitors must cover bare shoulders and legs. Complementary scarves are provided at the entrance.
I met a local on the bus to Blagaj who befriended me, followed me to the monastery, tried to cuddle me a few times….and then stole a Koran…by stuffing it down his pants. So…that happened.
Afterward, I took a trek out of town and hiked up to the fortress towering over Blagaj. A friendly American fellow, Henry, climbed up to the deserted castle with me. The path is steep, but the reward of having some quiet ruins and a picturesque vista are worth the effort.
Medugorje – On my final day, I took a day trip to Medugorje, one of the most visited places in all of BH. Before 1981, Medjugorje was a small farming town with just a few hundred inhabitants. Since then, due to reports of alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary to six local children, it has become a site for Catholic pilgrims (and non-Catholic tourists).
These days, hundreds of thousands of visitors descend upon the town to visit Cross Hill, Apparition Hill, and St. James Church. My visit to Medjugorje was a thought-provoking day spent learning about and appreciating the rich historical and religious significance of the site.
I thought about staying in Mostar for another few days – even a week or so, but time didn’t allow. I loved walking through the quiet streets, and I especially enjoyed the charismatic employees at Hostel David. Another day I will return to bask in Mostar’s sunshine and stroll along the cobblestone streets.